Google’s Country Experiences: France, Germany, Japan

Updated: September 09, 2010

Google's revenues have risen steadily from 2001 to 2008 with the revenue differential swinging towards international income in 2008. But the nature of Google's services has caused Google to have to defend itself against copyright infringement lawsuits. These were fueled by fear of U.S. dominance over the censor its search results according to government regulations. In Germany and Japan they removed links to pro-Nazi and anti-semitic sites along with other controversial sites. Companies were also seeking control over their brand names and trademarked goods in paid terms.

When Google announced plans to digitize books and documents it was felt that instead of democratizing knowledge the process would strengthen U.S. power to set a global agenda. In response in March 2005 the French decided to start their own digitization project. They also stated they didn't think the only key access to their culture should be one of an automatic ranking system by popularity. They believed European ranking should reflect a European vision of culture and history. What they had not decided was if they should build their own search engine or enter into an agreement with Google. To try to secure the company's contribution, the government has recently dangled some new carrots and sticks. First, it suggested that Google ought to pick up part of the tab to aid the beleaguered music industry, and threatened the company with an antitrust investigation. Then it proposed a partnership with Google to accelerate the development of a viable French digital library."

In Germany, Google's email was brought to the attention of the courts. A German nationalist insisted Google had infringed on his trademarked registration of the name Gmail. He won. Google quit using the term Gmail and began googlemail. In 2006 Angela Merkel became chancellor of Germany. Under the new government, the Germans didn't officially sanction Quaero. In January 2007 they pulled out to set up their own program named Thesues. They did say there would be cooperation like workgroups with project but the collaboration with the French was over. The EU gave Germany permission to spend €120 million ($167 million) on Thesues. 22 partner organizations that were to participate in the research were to also chip in €90 million.

According to more recent reports, "Analytics, the world's most popular website statistical analysis system, could be illegal in Germany. Government officials responsible for national data protection are attempting to ban Analytics on the grounds that it breaches privacy laws.

Collating detailed web statistics used to be a time-consuming task. Site owners either resorted to rudimentary page counters or web server log analyzers such as AWstats or WebTrends. Although these provide valuable data, the information is generally better suited for systems administrators rather than Internet marketers.

Google acquired Analytics from Urchin Software in April 2005. Although it was originally a commercial package, Google re-branded the system and permitted unlimited free use from 2006. Rather than analyzing log files, Analytics uses a JavaScript snippet which is placed on every page of a website. The code collects visitor data and sends it to Google's servers for processing.

The real power of Analytics is evident in the reports. Data is normally processed within hours of collation and the system offers a huge range of analysis tools. The dashboards and attractive charts are a dream for marketers and statisticians. Today, it's tough to find a major site that does not use Google Analytics, including an estimated 13% of German publishers.

The success of Google Analytics causes concern for German privacy protection officials. Conceivably, Google would be able to track an individual's movements throughout the web and collate information from websites that hold personal data, such as banks and insurance companies. In theory, Google could create profiles that include information about a person's interests, career, lifestyle, wealth, health, political and sexual preferences. If that individual has a Google account, the company could match a profile against a known user.

The German authorities are also concerned data is moved away from the country and stored on US servers. Privacy protection laws are different in the US and, potentially, Google could move information to countries where such laws are non-existent.

There's no evidence Google is profiling users in this way, but the company is secretive about how data is collated, processed and used. A Google spokesman argued that users could opt-out of data collection by disabling JavaScript or refusing cookies.

Unfortunately, German lawyers are already drooling at the prospect of anti-privacy cases. One claimed that German websites using Google Analytics could be fined up to US$75,000.

A key ministry official stated "The key to Japan's competitiveness has been our core technology but we need to create a new value added service that was personalized." The company has also been criticized for its Google Earth program for taking pictures which invade citizen privacy according to Reuters,

"Google's Street View, which offers 360-degree views of streets around the world using photos taken by cruising Google vehicles, has already run into privacy complaints in other countries and activists have tried to halt the service in Japan.

Google said in a statement on Wednesday it would lower the cameras on its cars by 40 cm (16 inches) after complaints they were capturing images over fences in private homes.

But it said it would continue filming in Japan, where it has so far covered 12 cities.

"It is certainly a fact that there have been concerns," said Yoshito Funabashi, a spokesman at Google's Tokyo office. "We thought of what we can do as a company and tried to be responsible."

Google said it has also blurred car number plates in the pictures, as it has done in Europe, but the new steps did not convince Japanese campaigners.

"They are just trying to get through at the technological level ... The question is, can we allow for them to shoot (images) unselectively?" said Yasuhiko Tajima, a professor of constitutional law at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Britain's privacy watchdog has rejected calls to shut Street View down there, where concerns have ranged from images such as someone throwing up outside a pub to media reports that a woman filed for divorce after her husband's car was pictured outside another woman's house. [ID:nLN970530]

Both Google Maps and a related mapping service, Google Earth, have also been criticized by some countries for providing images of sensitive locations, such as military bases.

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